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Assessing the efficacy of medetomidine and tiletamine-zolazepam for remote immobilisation of feral horses (Equus caballus)

Zabek, M.A., Wright, J., Berman, D.M., Hampton, J.O. and Collins, C.W. (2014) Assessing the efficacy of medetomidine and tiletamine-zolazepam for remote immobilisation of feral horses (Equus caballus). Wildlife Research, 41 (7). pp. 615-622.

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Context The study of any wild animal's home range requires the collection of spatiotemporal data, obtained independently of climatic conditions or time of day. This can be achieved by the attachment of global positioning system (GPS) data loggers, which, in large species, is best achieved by remote immobilisation. Feral horses (Equus caballus) usually occupy remote areas of Australia; however, a considerable population increase has been observed in a close proximity to metropolitan areas of the Australian east coast, creating increasing conflict with human interests. Aim The aim of the present study was to investigate the efficacy of remote chemical immobilisation of feral horses with medetomidine combined with tiletamine-zolazepam to facilitate placement of satellite GPS collars. Methods Nine feral horses were darted from the ground with 60mg (i.m.) medetomidine and 1500mg (i.m.) tiletamine-zolazepam. The effects of medetomidine were reversed with 50-100mg (i.m. or i.v.) atipamezole 30-40min after induction (IV/IM). Physiological variables monitored during anaesthesia were heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and oxygen haemoglobin saturation (Spo2). Key results All horses were successfully immobilised with between one and three darts (n≤9). The mean (± s.e.m.) dose of medetomidine was 0.15±0.01mg kg-1, whereas that of tiletamine-zolazepam was 3.61±0.16mg kg-1. Mean time from darting to lateral recumbency was 13.3±2.7min and mean recumbency time was 54±13min. Vital signs for all anaesthetised animals remained within the normal range during anaesthesia, with the exception of one animal exhibiting a transient drop in Spo2. There were no deaths. Key conclusions The combination of medetomidine and tiletamine-zolazepam provided adequate anaesthesia in feral horses in the field for application of GPS collars. Implications Although a limited number of horses was immobilised, the present study shows that the combination of medetomidine and tiletamine-zolazepam provides effective short-term anaesthesia for feral horses, affording a practical and field-accessible capture technique. This method could also be applied to other management actions requiring the safe and humane capture of feral horses.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Copyright: © 2014 CSIRO.
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